*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 7th of March 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Among a few questions, a question from Kevin in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
(That’s where Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick!)
“I enjoyed the show on Sister Aimee and appreciated how you handled her as a human instead of as caricature… how do you feel about the kinds of televangelists who seem to be obvious crooks… how gracious should we be towards them?”
1st- I’m not opposed to people who try to hold influential people accountable—especially people who publicly teach from the Bible. Matthew chapter 23 is a litany against those false teachers.
This show is about Saints and Sinners- but with a twist- I don’t categorize everyone as the Saints or Sinners- but Saints AND Sinners.
Also, while I am your historical tour guide- I’m not your pastor or conscience, I’m going to be a “big tent” Christian on this show- I don’t agree with many of the people I talk about- but this show isn’t “what Dan thinks about these people” as much as “here’s how we might understand these people in their context.”
Ok- but what about the extremes- Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and the like.
I have a few ideas.
First: “look how dumb they are” isn’t a great approach. It makes smug people look down on others. For many who follow such teachers, It’s usually not an intellectual assent as it is an emotional assent.
I think it is helpful to lay out a few counterarguments to those who promise that health and wealth in the present can be gained by making specific donations to certain people.
Sometimes the grifter is going to keep grifting- instead of barraging someone with one more expose on the person or their bad theology- try introducing thoughtful resources to the person that might help direct them in a more promising direction.
I have, over the years, come back to 2 different ways of thinking about those caught up in what seems like ridiculous religious ploys. I propose one fancy phrase and another fancy word.
The phrase is felicitous inconsistency.
Many people hold excellent ideas in their heads with terrible views and sometimes don’t see how the bad idea would, if believed consistently, would negate the good thoughts.
I thought a lot about what “other” people believed back in college. I often felt too often of people not as people but as a collection of cells, nerves, and bones that gave yes or no answers to propositions. Not everyone sits down at night and systematizes their thoughts. Theology is also not a closed logical system whereby you can deduce truths based on other facts, and one wrong move makes the whole plan fall apart. It’s not the Matrix.
I’m often asked, “are people from X church Christians?”. My response: I don’t know. What do they confess? They might be miles away from the theology of the church they attend. People who do theology for a living can get a little high and mighty when it comes to what everyone everywhere should believe and why belief X implies beliefs A, B, and C. There’s usefulness to thinking through our systems- but we are more complex than disembodied ideas we may give a thumbs up, or thumbs down to.
And the word that has helped me? It comes from my beloved world of professional wrestling- “Kayfabe.”
Ask a pro wrestling fan if wrestling is “fake,” and you’re likely to get several responses.
If you ask a non-Pro-wrestling person if it’s fake- you’ll get one answer “duh, of course- it’s so dumb. I can’t understand why people think it’s real”.
Kayfabe comes from the world of Carnies and means “fake,” but more than that. It’s a tacit understanding that what you are doing is scripted, follows an accepted plot, everyone is “in on it” (to some extent), and coordinated response to the accepted pre-ordained outcome.
I say “to some extent” because when I watched Wrestlemania 6, I probably thought the Ultimate Warrior upset Hulk Hogan. By Wrestlemania 7, I figured something was up as Sergeant Slaughter turned on America during Operation Desert Storm and fought against Hulk Hogan on the side of Iraqis.
How does Kayfabe help us understand the most ridiculous of televangelists? How many think it’s real and eventually decide it’s not on the level? Many stay because they like the show and the company, but they have other beliefs that don’t work with the “health and wealth” folks.
To end in brief: first, ask yourself what you confess. Whom do you say Jesus is? Secondly- ask others whom they say Jesus is? Foster relationships and let theological discussions and corrections happen in a trusted community. Finally- understand how “felicitous inconsistency” can negate the wrong doctrine and how the whole project might be kayfabe- neither completely real nor fake- but a tacit agreement to suspend slight disbelief to take in the spectacle.
The Last Word for today comes from Matthew 18:
10 “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven, their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of March 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who reminds you that real Hulkamaniacs train, eat their vitamins, and say their prayers. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by noted Koko B. Ware enthusiast Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.